Raining Una Watters, that is. We’re delighted to be able to announce that the Una Watters’ painting, Girl Going by Trinity in the Rain (1959, oil on canvas, 61×81 cms), is now part of the National Gallery’s collection, thanks to the generosity of its owner, Colbert Kearney.
Colbert was gifted the work by Eugene Watters after Una’s posthumous exhibition in 1966. He was a pupil of Eugene’s at St Fergal’s National School in Finglas (see Colbert’s guest blog, “Portrait of E.R. Watters”, June 17, 2020) and they remained firm friends until Eugene’s death. It was always Colbert’s intention to pass the painting on but after last year’s retrospective (March 10 – April 2, 2022 @ the United Arts Club), the idea of donating to the NGI seemed like the logical next step.
Girl Going by Trinity is a quintessentially Dublin work – the Trinity College location makes it so – and the driving, sleety rain will be a familiar meteorological trope for anyone who has known winter in the city.
As Colbert’s partner, I’ve lived with this work for over 20 years, and it’s the work that inspired my quest to locate as much of Una’s work as possible, and the decision to mount Una’s retrospective last year with Sheila Smith, her niece. The idea was to bring Una to a wider audience and to the forefront of artistic attention. We hope that the NGI’s acquisition of her work will cement that progress.
The opportunity came at a reception for the Sarah Cecelia Harrison Inaugural Essay Prize sponsored by the gallery last November. My essay on Una reached the final three (See “Una takes her place”, November 25, 2022). At the reception Colbert had a conversation with the director of the ESB Centre for the Study of Irish Art, Donal Maguire, and enquired if the gallery would be interested in having an Una Watters in the collection. I think Donal wondered if it was the cheeky white wine talking, but once he was assured that Colbert was serious, the process only took a few months.
In late January we had to say goodbye to the painting, so it could go before an acquisitions committee. At that stage, we didn’t know if it would be accepted or if we would see it again (although of course we sincerely hope we will see it again on the walls of the National Gallery!) so we spent much of the early new year savouring our time with it.
We moved it to a new spot – hung lower than usual. (I got this idea from sculptor Corban Walker’s exhibition As Far As I can See at the Crawford Gallery (Oct 15, 2022 – Jan 15, 2023). Along with his own work, Walker chose 30 works from the Crawford Collection to show. Because of his restricted stature, Walker hung the works lower than normal and it afforded a much more intimate relationship with the paintings.)
Now at eye-level, there were still new things I was seeing in Girl Going by Trinity in the Rain – its complex treatment of light, the quivering rain drops (impasto dashes of white paint) on the tips of the umbrella, the life-like animation of the Goldsmith statue beside the flesh-and-blood young woman who appears paradoxically monumental, the misty illumination around the girl’s ponytail.
I’d never noticed before the proliferation of verticals in the work – the stick of the umbrella, the railings, the balustrades – and how the rain itself is architectural in its form like literal stair-rods. The patterned geometry of the stone work leans close to abstraction; even the half-belt on the girl’s coat looks solid, brick-like, as if she’s melding with the building, her face full of sharp architectural planes.
I could go on, but I won’t, or I’ll get lonesome for it! And there’s nothing really to mourn. The painting lives.
Girl Going by Trinity in the Rain joins its sister work – The People’s Gardens (1963, oil on canvas, 40.6 x 50.8 cms) – which is already in the Dublin City Hugh Lane Gallery collection (See Logan Sisley’s guest blog May 6, 2020). It means Una Watters’ name is enshrined in the national cultural memory, where it belongs.
Although the Hugh Lane organised private viewings of their Una to coincide with our retrospective last year, they wouldn’t lend The People’s Gardens, and it’s a very long time since it was on public display in Parnell Square.
Both of these works deserve to be widely seen. So next time you’re in either of these galleries, ask about their Una Watters works; it’s possible to see them by appointment. After all, they belong to all of us now.